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Volume 26, Number 10 — October 2018

ETSU Professor publishes Memoirs of a Storyteller

Dr. Thomas Burton
Dr. Thomas Burton

'Beech Mountain Man: The Memoirs of Ronda Lee Hicks'

August 27, 2009

JOHNSON CITY Beech Mountain Man: The Memoirs of Ronda Lee Hicks is the title of a new book by Dr. Thomas G. Burton, East Tennessee State University professor emeritus of English and founder of the Appalachian, Scottish, and Irish Studies Program in ETSU's Center for Appalachian Studies and Services.

Ronda Lee Hicks is the offspring of two families of great storytellers. His late cousin, Ray Hicks, who was a perennial favorite at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, was famed as the "keeper" of Jack Tales. Ronda is a gifted storyteller in his own right, although his stories are principally about himself rather than a great social leveler like Jack.

"Thomas Burton's edition of what amounts to an autobiography of Ronda Lee Hicks — fighter, drinker, womanizer, and storyteller — represents a whiff of late-night honky-tonk whiskey and tobacco in its realism," writes Erika Brady of Western Kentucky University. "Hicks is a talented raconteur, whose gifts are well displayed in Burton's careful editing."

During his academic career, Burton has researched various aspects of Appalachian folk culture, among them folklore, balladry, storytelling and serpent handling in religious services. In 1964, along with the late Ambrose Manning, also of the English department at ETSU, Burton began taping folk songs and folk tales. Five years later, Burton and Manning received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to teach oral history techniques to high school students in Avery and Watauga counties in North Carolina. Both the tapes recorded by Burton and Manning and those recorded by the students became part of the Oral History Archives run by Burton and Manning. Those tapes were transferred to the Archives of Appalachia in January 1979, a few months after the archives' founding in 1978.

In addition to Beech Mountain Man, Burton is the author of Serpent-Handling Believers and The Serpent and the Spirit: Glenn Summerford's Story. All three are published by The University of Tennessee Press.

A! ExtraTopics: Literature